Memories of the Future, or, Somewhere in Indiana — Reflections on the Pandemic

Gavin Paul
6 min readMar 6, 2021
Original photo by Jonathan Larson (unsplash.com)

And then one day the whole world just stopped.

I’m not sure exactly when I discovered the owl’s nest on the 24 hour live camera. Something strange happened to my sense of time early in the pandemic. Things started slowing down even as they sped up. I felt like I was somehow moving underwater and plummeting through endless space all at once. I found the camera in the middle of March, I think, when my growing obsession with bird watching was moving in step with increasing social restrictions. Stuck at home, I was monitoring and servicing my backyard feeders with a fanaticism that at times unnerved me. I would tell myself that the birds were an ideal distraction amidst the confusion, an oasis of calm that allowed me to turn off the news and direct my attention elsewhere, most importantly away from my own gnawing fear and powerlessness. And so I experimented with new combinations of feed and suet, trained my ears to catch and sift drops of birdsong, diligently recorded comings and goings in a notebook, and, at some point while investigating my hobby online, stumbled across a link to a live nest cam, mounted above a mother barred owl in a small rectangular box crafted from short wooden panels.

The eggs were already there, though I didn’t see them until a few days later, three bright orbs that I only realized I had glimpsed in the moment they were hidden again — a bit like shooting stars. At first I only saw the owl, which rarely moved, save for a subtle shifting of its weight, a little flutter near its eyes, or maybe a slow, steady turning of its head. There was something strangely thrilling about these syrupy movements, and when they happened it was like a private signal that rewarded my patience even as it charged the next long period of stillness with hushed, anticipatory pleasures. Whenever I locked on to the signal, the owl was just sitting there, not doing much of anything. I found it hard to look away.

The owl cam became a virtual tether to the world outside my windows, a tiny space out there somewhere, magically free from the crushing weight of information related to respiratory droplets, protein spikes, community spread. It didn’t matter that the owl moved so sparingly, and that sometimes its upper half would be out of frame and I would…

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Gavin Paul

English Professor. Author of "Conspiracy of One," a small book of short stories, and “The Coward," a collection of essays. amazon.com/author/gavinpaul